Monday, August 31, 2015

On Deadlifts and Dance: An interview with Monika Volkmar of DanceStronger

I am very happy to share this interview with Monika Volkmar - Dancer, strength coach and author of the awesome upcoming DanceStronger book and workout program.


Monika Volkmar
K: Hello, who are you? :) Please tell me a bit more about yourself (in dance and life)

M: I’m super stoked to be featured on your blog, Khalida. On paper, I am a dancer, a strength and conditioning specialist, owner of The Dance Training Project, a Thai massage practitioner, and level 1 Neurokinetic Therapy practitioner. Really though, you can call me a movement nerd and dancer enhancer who enjoys spending free time riding her bicycle, doing yoga, and eating scones.

Through the DTP I am on a mission to show the dance world that yes, you can (and should!) become strong, and by being strong and moving well fundamentally you will feel incredible improvements in your dancing, while becoming free from pain and preventing injuries. Sounds pretty awesome, right? That’s because it is. Strong feels good.

But I wasn’t always this optimistic. I used to be in pain, was quite unhealthy, and pretty weak (mind and body). Then things went further downhill after a string of injuries that I never felt the need to get proper rehab for, and so had to stop dancing.

Fun fact about me: I briefly competed in French kickboxing (Savate). There is Youtube video of me fighting a girl. And losing. Just try to find it, I dare you.

K: How did you transition from the world of dance into the world of body work/health/strength mojo for dancers? What sparked your interest initially?

M: That’s a fantastic question. As I’ve already alluded to, I did not used to be the image of dancer mojo you point me out to be. I had cripplingly low self-esteem, I developed an eating disorder, I disconnected completely from pain signals (which would have been really helpful for preventing the ridiculous number of injuries I would eventually accumulate). While at university for dance I became extremely over-trained, I still continued to eat unhealthily, was in chronic pain daily (which I continued to ignore), was stressed out of control, not sleeping enough, getting injured but not resting or getting rehab, and generally hating my life.

Eventually, this all climaxed in the form of a gnarly hamstring strain that forced me to stop dancing. But like most devastating, identity-shattering obstacles, you learn from them and they become a catalyst for personal growth. The down-time I was forced to take from dancing allowed me to refocus my energy on something that was becoming more and more fascinating to me- Strength training, and how it could help me return to dance and help other dancers who needed it.

The one healthy thing I was doing throughout this period of overall negativity, was that I had become certified as a personal trainer and had begun strength training. Too bad I was so over-trained that the strength training was not highly effective. Oh well. I did see some improvements in my dancing, and so did my teachers. I was starting to feel stronger until the day I injured myself in a jazz warm-up, because I never warmed-up properly.

So to keep this story short, immediately after graduating I started the DTP as a summer program. Since then, I’ve continued to learn and develop my dancer-enhancer skills, writing the DTP blog and sharing what I’m learning along the way. It’s been a sweet ride, so far.

K: How did you come to write your first blog post on the now fabulously information-rich (and award-winning!) blog at ?

M: I did it because someone told me to.

I could stop there, because it’s as simple as that. My web/PR girl at the time was really interested in my mission, and said, “Yo Monika, you should be writing about this. It’ll be good for business, too”.

I never considered myself a writer. I’m really not very good at it. But I found that I had a lot of things to say, and really enjoyed the freedom of writing it exactly how I wanted to. I knew I should probably start to take it more seriously when a reader emailed me to tell me to stop with the profanities. The F-bombs in particular, so that she could share the articles with her students. At first I laughed, and then I decided that probably keeping things (mostly) PG wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Because I was learning as I went, my blog served (and still does serve) me mostly as a way to clarify my thoughts. If I could articulate my thoughts to an invisible audience, I knew I would be able to explain concepts and coach my clients better, too.

K: What are your own favorite blogs on bodywork/health for dancers?

M: In all honesty, I don’t follow that many dance-related blogs these days. I’ve been focusing more on output rather than input, meaning that I will read relatively little compared to the amount of experiential learning I try to do. Maybe read one concept, and then take that and run with it for a while. Mostly, my learning about movement and strength is coming directly from a few colleagues of mine who have taught me exercises that I experiment the crap out of. Knowledge is useless until you apply it, after all.

That said, these are a few blogs I often refer to when I need to clarify something or share it with my community (not necessarily dance-related, but human being related, so that includes you).

-Dr. Dooley Noted
-Stop Chasing Pain

And some other more dance-related ones by my internet friends that you should check out:  If you’re in the ballet/contemporary world  If you’re a breaker  If you do dancesport

K: Can you tell us a bit more about the new Dance Stronger program/book?

M: With pleasure :)

Dance Stronger started as a free 4 week program availble on my website. It was pretty ok. I got a reasonable amount of people emailing me to thank me for it, and that it was helping. And as the years went by, I realized that it really wasn’t my best work, and it got to the point where I felt deeply wrong about having it on my website knowing that I could do much, much better.

This past May I gathered a group of about 60 dancers online from all over the world, and they witnessed the re-creation of Dance Stronger version 2 (DS2). When I started, what I had in mind to do was simply re-shoot new videos and re-design the program with new exercises and structure. But then I realized there was so much that I felt dancers needed to know before started to ensure they actually got results. So of course I had to write a book to go with it.

Dance Stronger is essentially everything that I try to teach to a new dance client within the first month of us training together. It covers the most basic of the basics, and includes the tools I feel so essential to becoming the best dancer you can be, while reducing pain and injuries.

In the program itself you’ll find some fundamental concepts for training to improve movement quality and strength, everything you wanted to know about breathing, how to warm-up properly, how to use outcome measures to monitor your progress, the truth about core training, and then 4 weeks of training with complete video tutorials so you can immediately apply what you’ve been reading and integrate it into your life (application is key!).

I’ve been told that Dance Stronger is more like a lifestyle change than a 4 week training program. And that’s pretty awesome, because that’s how I feel about it, too. 

DanceStronger in action
K: What was the motivation for you to get started on this new version?

M: Oops, kind of already answered that. Cognitive dissonance. The last Dance Stronger was, pardon my language, pretty crappy. It made me feel bad inside to not update it. Also, someone told me to (same person who told me to start blogging as it happens), and apparently I’m easily persuaded to create stuff.

K: In what way does this program differ from the ‘old’ Dance Stronger program?

M: It’s different in a few ways, besides the overall improved quality, quantity of information, and exercise selection.

There is now a home program option that uses only bodyweight, bands, and optional resistance if you have the means. The choice of exercises are pretty different, too, as I already mentioned. The video quality is much better (I essentially coach you through each exercise as opposed to just showing it). There’s also a lot more emphasis on the concepts and “why” for choosing the exercises in the program, and explaining how things should feel, along with many opportunities to regress or progress exercises based on your current skill level.

Another exciting new part of the program is the online community you get to be a part of. We have a really inspiring private Facebook group where program participants ask questions, post about their successes and frustrations, and I get to help answer questions a little more quickly than through email.

And like I mentioned above, the new Dance Stronger asks you to take a good hard look at yourself, and to change your habitual ways of doing and thinking, thus changing your dancing (and probably the way you live your life).

The new Dance Stronger is the exact metamorphosis, written step by step, that I have experienced over the years I’ve been trying to “rebuild” myself to dance better, stronger, and with less pain.

K: What do you hope it will achieve?

M: I’m hoping Dance Stronger will accomplish a few things:

1) Give dancers a tool to help them start a sensible cross-training program. One that isn’t just crunches and stretching.
2) To give dance teachers a tool to start to integrate some movement and strength exercises into their classes (Dance Stronger is actually in the process of being transmogrified into a class for dance teachers in London, Ontario with help from my colleague Bizz Varty, who you’ll remember from her popular SI Joint Whisperer blog posts).
3) To emphasize the need for dancers to change their mindsets as it relates to stretching, core training, lifting weights, restorative exercise, and best-practices in general.

Like I mentioned above, Dance Stronger describes the changes you will need to make if you want your body not to hate you when you’re 30, or like me, have to stop dancing at 22, with worse hips than my mother’s.

K: What were your findings/experiences about the DS2 trial run this summer? Were there any things that surprised you? And/or surprised you not?

M: The best part of the trial run was getting to “know” the awesome people in it! Everyone in the trial group is amazingly hard working and dedicated to the experience, even though I was totally winging it and creating as I went. I was so great to be getting immediate feedback on what was working, what wasn’t, and which ideas were just plain awful (there were some…).

The most surprising thing was that people were actually getting some crazy awesome results! I was expecting some people to say, “These are cool exercises but I don’t feel any different”, or “Monika, this sucks”, or, because most of the exercises in the program are deceivingly simple, I was expecting people to say it was too easy and boring.

But no. Many people were getting great results just from the breathing and prep week alone. So that was amazing. And I didn’t have to face my biggest fear- That Dance Stronger would be a total failure. I’m also surprised and so excited about how active the online community is on our Facebook group. I feel like I’ve really gotten to know the most active members of the page, and so many of them have gone above and beyond giving me feedback on the exercises, helping me to edit the chapters, and even give me financial advice. Hilarious and amazing. I feel truly grateful to these wonderful people (that includes YOU Khalida).

K: Who do you think would benefit most from the new program/book information?

M: There are 3 main types of people who will appreciate Dance Stronger:

1) Dancers who HAVEN’T been injured yet. Why? Because Dance Stronger will help them prevent injuries and not have to go through all the hell that I went through. Dancers that are smart will use DS2 as a preventative program, to help them get strong so they can not only improve their dancing immediately, but not get hurt in the future.
2) Dancers who have already been injured, are struggling to get their bodies back into dancing shape, and are losing hope (thinking they may have to soon stop for good). Like I mentioned already, DS is the exact metamorphosis I’ve achieved for myself to bring me back to dancing pain-free, from chronic pain and a string of injuries, and I think these dancers (or non-dancers) will benefit the most.
3) Dance teachers who are looking for some tools for their students, or are interested in adding in some extra strength training exercises into their classes. So many teachers settle for crunches as their foundation of cross-training exercises, but you shouldn’t! I hope that dance teachers will use DS not only to help themselves but to help their students.

Above all, Dance Stronger is for people who want a change in the way their body feels on a daily basis, dancer or not. If you think you’re perfect already, and that everything you’re doing is totally sustainable for the rest of your dance career, then DS is probably not the program for you. But if you know you need to do something different and you’re not sure how to start or what to do, then DS2 will absolutely be something that helps you on your journey to better dancing.

K: What is the best advice on (dance) health you’ve ever received? 
M: Wow that’s a tough question. There have been so many small bits of advice that on their own haven’t been “the best”, but together have helped me realize what I should be focusing my energies on.

The best guidance I’ve been given for training actually came from my favourite Yoga teacher, who now lives in India. He always said, “Find the relaxation within the struggle”. At the time, I was thinking “Is he out of his mind”… But this I now something I encourage my students to do as well. This guidance has stuck with me through all aspects of life, yoga, training, and dance.
Acknowledge the struggle, work at the edge of your abilities, but try to also find the part of the movement or position that isn’t a struggle, that you can focus on to make it a bit more bearable.

Good advice for dance, movement, and life. 

K: Thank you very much Monika for your extensive and open-hearted replies

Monika in action

PS: See for the latest updates on Monika's upcoming book and movement program. 

For all you blog readers: Use code KHALIDAROCKS to get a special nice lil' bonus on the page

Dance Stronger - The Book

Also: Check out this blog post (scroll all the way down) for my experiences in being part of the trial version the past few months:

Happy reading!

x K. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Friday, August 21, 2015

How I roll. Pre-warmup rolling routine - Part 1 of 3

As promised, here is part 1 of my personal pre-warmup rolling routine - for feet and lower legs (shins and calf muscles)

Khalida Dance: Pre-warmup rolling routine - part 1

You can find more info on where to find the Rumble Roller and 'Yoga tune-up balls' I use in the video in the previous blog post here:

This video is part 1 of 3 of my 'Pre-warmup rolling routine series', and it will be included in the new Shimmy Sessions series: A 4-part downloadable belly dance class focusing on shimmy techniques, which is now available for pre-order at (the official release is planned in September 2015)

Check out the full series:
Khalida Dance: Pre-warmup rolling routine - part 1 (calves and shins)
Khalida Dance: Pre-warmup rolling routine - part 2 (hips and hamstrings)
Khalida Dance: Pre-warmup rolling routine - part 3 (quadriceps and adductors)

PS: Very good news regarding the online classes: 10% Of all ShimmySessions sales (and pre-sales) will go to Dance4Children, a Belgian non-profit association that aims at promoting and financing solidarity projects for children in Asia & Africa through dance.
Check them out on FaceBook (EN) or via their website (FR) at

Happy rolling!

xx K.

Khalida Dance
PS: If you like this video - Feel free to share it via the buttons below.

Friday, August 14, 2015

How I got pain-free - part 2

Hello again,

If you've missed part 1 of this post, with the back story about how I ended up here, you can find it via this link:

The most recent update (one year later!) can be found here: How I got pain-free - part 3: A DVD

In this second part I would like to share my findings with you in my quest for better self (health) care. It is a longish post post of epic proportions, so go ahead and grab some tea. (or coffee - for the more coffeecally inclined)

We all have a body. We are housed in a living organism. Isn't it a weird and wonderful thing that our 'mobile home' is actually comprised of trillions (about 37.2 trillions is estimated) of living cells, whose main goal (in most cases) is simply to keep us alive, well, and safe?

It helps me to think of our bodies this way, as a rather odd bunch of microscopic pets we should feel responsible for and tend to as best we can.

A great book I read a few years ago for dancers, with tips on how to do just that:

Apt title, yes?

(The diet chapter is a bit dated, but still tons of value in there)

Our body is an instrument, but one that is actually ALIVE, and we only get one each. Unfortunately, in most cases, without a user manual included. So why not do our very best to learn what we can about it, even dance with it, and take good care of it to boot?

Below you will find a list of things I recommend.

Self-care Tip 1: Unsticking - Restoring and repairing

Option A: Massage - One of the best things you can do for self (body) care, especially if you are unsure where to begin. It will help you to un-stick stuck tissues, restore much-needed blood flow to seized-up muscles, improve proprioception (ever notice how it can be hard to 'feel' your muscles that are tight, until someone massages them?) plus it helps to generally relax, which so many of us could use every now and then.

Getting a massage every day is (at least for most of us) not really realistic alas, so here are some tips to get the most out of your session(s):

- Find a very good practitioner. Seems obvious, but it makes such a difference. It doesn't matter which massage 'type' you prefer (I've had pretty good results with shiatsu, thai massage and general sports massage, as they go beyond just relaxation and work to release tissues through pressure points and/or trigger points) but more so whether you feel at ease and how well the therapist is able to 'listen', in every sense of the word.

- Get there a bit early. Not early-early, but enough to give you some 'breathing space', for finding a parking space if you travel by car, and for have a moment to acclimate before the session starts.

- Communicate. If your practitioner knows what is going on with you it will help them help you more efficiëntly. Also: Don't be afraid to ask questions if need be - I have received some amazing tips for self-care and helpful information on the state of my body this way.

- Stay present. Try to breathe and notice what is happening in your body, in a non-judgmental way. Are you tensing up anywhere? Can you try and consciously relax that space? Are you holding your breath? If yes, can you try and let it go? How does your left and right side compare? Registering how you feel and allowing yourself to 'stay with the moment' during the session can make it so much more beneficial... Remember why you are there. Enjoy.

Option B: Self-massage - A lot cheaper, but you will have to do it yourself :)

1. Foam rolling
Ahh, Foam rolling. An excellent way to prepare your muscles for movement as well as to self-release any myofascial trigger points. It's used by athletes and dancers alike to improve personal performance and to promote better body recovery after intense training sessions. 

Check out this article on 'what it is':

How do I use it? I like to use a foam roller either to warmup pre-movement or if my muscles are sore after long dance days, as it helps to recover them faster.

You can even release you diaphragm using a foam roller (or big ball, see below), check out this video by the über-smart Monika Volkmar of the Dance Training Project (an excellent blog by the way)

Bonus tip: Try rolling out your legs before practising your shimmies! It really works to make them juicy and relaxed - magic :) I will be posting my own pre-shimmy rolling routine next week.

Also check out these awesome foam rolling tips from Dr Mark Cheng:

Which foam roller is best? I have both 'regular roller' and a travel-sized 'rumble roller' at home/in the studio. Most rollers are color coded from light to dark for their hardness/resistance, so you can start mellow at first and build your way up, then give/sell the softer one to a new-to-rolling dance friend if you want to move on to a darker one.

The Rumble Roller is a bit (ok, a lot) more intense than a regular roller, but also very effective. I recommend starting with the blue one if you are not used to rolling yet - it works wonders for releasing trigger points and increasing blood flow in larger muscle groups (eg. legs) because of the thumb-like 'knobs'.
A RumbleRoller(tm) in it's natural habitat

My biggest tip for 'rolling foam': Don't rush. It can take a bit of time before the tension reflexes give way. It can be tempting to skip over the parts that are most tender-ish, but a trigger point release is definitely worth the wait.

The goal is not to roll out all your muscles super fast, but to help your body relax into tense spots and breathe some air into tight tissue.

ETA: For those interested in foam rolling, check out this great resource by Ashley Borden: (scroll to the bottom of the page for a pdf version)

Thanks, Nargis for the tip! 

2. Ball Rolling - My favorite self-massage method at the moment

What is it? A softer and more precise method of self-myofascial release.

I found the kindle version of Jill Miller's book 'The Roll Model' on Amazon) and ever since reading it and trying out the exercises using Jill Millers 'Yoga tune-up balls' I am hooked.

Note: If you have taken my Tuesday Training sessions this July you might recognize the balls from our pre-warmup exercises :)

Dude. Check my balls.
What are they? YTU balls are similar in size to, but much more pliable and grippy than tennis balls (so a definite upgrade - except if you want to use them for tennis :)) and just as light and portable.

YTU balls are are perfect for releasing those harder-to-reach places like upper back, ribcage area, arms, neck, jaw (I'm a right-side jaw tenser, so this is a really great thing..) and they work wonders for bony areas like ankles, knees, hips and feet.

They are a bit more expensive than tennis balls (for some reason though the YTU balls are cheaper via than - so it's good to research a bit!) but definitely worth the price.

Even my husband uses them to roll out his feet while desk-working and after long bike rides.

Check out the YTU video channel for some excellent follow-along exercises:

Which type of ball is best? Yoga tuneup-balls come in 4 different sizes (normal, plus, alpha and coregeous) - with each their own advantages. I use the normals for general trigger point release and the coregeous ball for breathing work.

What they did for me: Working with the balls and the exercises from Jills book has helped me get faster results in undoing the results of iffy movement habits and it did wonders to dissolve tissue adhesions.

I use them on 'rest days', in between workouts or after long dance-intense classes. They are my go-to body maintenance tools at the moment and very versatile. I bring them with me to shows for a quick backstage pre-performance roll-up and/or post-performance roll-down :)

I highly recommend.

Self-care Tip 2: Imagery and gentle movement - Staying 'loose' in daily life
 1. Franklin Method - I've been a fan of the FM books for quite a while. I am currently reading Dance imagery for technique and performance and love 'Dynamic alignment through imagery' as well.

The Franklin method focuses on improving movement efficiency and alginment through imagery and touch, and is ideal for those who want to lean more about the body/mind mechanics and how much the right imagery can influence movement positively.

I use their imagery exercises to improve my alignment 'mentally' as well as physically, and to work on increasing mobility in a gentle way.

I've recently discovered their youtube channel, which has some excellent exercises and tips that translate well for practical use in warmups and cooldowns for dance classes.

Side note: I've had the 'Conditioning for dance' book by Franklin for ages - but in hindsight I think I might have read it too early. I had to fix my basic movement patterns first (more on that at the end of this post! This might be the case for you too if you are reading this for the same reasons I wrote it) before the more dance-specific conditioning and fine-tuning of movements made sense.

2. Yoga/Gentle stretching
I have taken yoga classes early on in my 'quest for pain-free-ness', and even though it felt nice, and despite learning a lot about my body in the process, I think it might have been too early for me as well, as my alignment was too 'off' for some of the poses we covered in class.

Still, learning how to do some gentle yoga exercises myself for unwinding and releasing has been mucho beneficial.

I stumbled upon the website a few years ago, it has a wealth of free yoga videos with clear instruction at a nice, easy pace. The following are my 2 favorite videos of the bunch:

Lower body (back, hips and legs) - perfect after a long dance day - 45 minutes:

Upper body 'office yoga' - ideal after a long drive or computer work time - 15 minutes:

Duckman. With ducks.
I've come to call this 'The Duckman Stretches' in my mind, because of all the ducks running around in the leg stretches video (and my brain apparently being a fan of superhero comics) Sorry, David! 

Self-care Tip 3: Habit busting - Daily recoveries & Knowledge is power
The following are 2 of my favorite resources on helping to improve movements - an essential part in getting pain-free has been to un-program some less-than-optimal movement and alignment habits that I had developed over the years.

Without working on these, all of the good things mentioned above would only have temporary effects at best. We are the sum of what we habitually do.

1. For daily movement habits: Katy Bowmans Alignment Snacks and Blog
Knowledge is power, yes? Katy Bowman is full of knowledge. She is a biomechanist, blogger, author, and founder of the Restorative Exercise Institute.

What did it do for me? I've been using the Alignment Snacks (30-minute movement class videos) to undo a couple of pretty stubborn movement habits lately. Looks easy, yet is anything but! Following these videos has helped me to recognize a bunch of 'cheats' that had snuck their way into my movement patterns.

Figuring this out has helped me get more out of the exercises in the last part of this (by now epically long) blog post and makes me more aware of how I carry myself in general.

I recommend starting with a video on upper body and one on lower body if you're not sure where to begin, as there is a bit of overlap in the contents here and there, but I really do like them all - inlcuding the slightly longer movement webinars

Check out a free sample video here:

For the readers: Katy's book Move your DNA is an excellent read as well, and I highly recommend browsing through her blog. 

Bonus tip: Try KB's 30-day movement challenge! and the restorative excercise youtube channel

2. For dance habits and primal movement patterns: Every damn blog post on
Because seriously. This blog (by Monika Volkmar of the Dance Training Project) has been a life/mind saver for me.

Discovering has been the catalyst for a. Getting started on educating myself about movement, mobility and stability and b. Taking those final (but really crucial) steps towards lasting movement recovery.

Badass. Much badass.
Monika is crazy smart, really on the ball (ha), and has a wicked sense of humor. Her posts on dance and dance recovery are insightful, informative and thought provoking. Furthermore, she understands (dance) injury recovery from her own experience, and has made it her mission to help others as well. Gush gush. Here are some of her recent posts that I like:

On stretching:

On dance warmups:

On core work:

I have posted an interview with miss Monika (and her new DanceStronger program) in the blog here - and if you are interested in her new book/program - Check out the special discount code below :)

3. Extra movement/habit restoration tips
Try these (and let me know if they work for you - please share your own tips in the comments as well!)

- Restorative resting pose. It rocks. (Pose nr 2 from Combine it with some gentle breathing drills, or a mindfulness meditation, or just lie around listening to your favorite piece of music.

- Ditch the heels. And shoes where possible. Walk on different kinds of things.

- Do the bag carry switcharoo. I know it's an uncomfortable habit to change, but it makes a difference. Tip: A hand bag with a long strap is handy for this, you can wear it either 'normal', or diagonally, left, and right, and switch it up as often as you can. Even better: Get a rucksack. Keep it light.

- Read in different positions (if you're reading this - go change it up right now!) More is more.

- Try a social media *cough* FB *cough*-free day every now and then. 24 hours. If it is hard you're doing a good thing.

- Same with email.

- Hydrate. It's good for everything. (I use drinking water during dance practice as a cue to lenghten my neck, focusing on feeling the water run down my throat while my head floats up - instant healthy alignment boost!)

- Do little bits of movement and exercise/practice during the day instead of everything in one big glob.

Self-care Tip 4: Re-programming faulty movement patterns - aka Sealing the deal, for real.
My congratulations if you have made it all the way here. It's worth it, promise.

Being a follower of Monika's awesome blog (see above) - I received a call (by email) this April for people to apply for testing out her new Dance Stronger program as it was being developed this June/July.

A test engineer at heart (well, partially) and at that point STILL struggling with lingering (and ever returning) pain in my right hip and right shoulder I jumped(ha) at the chance.

And boy, am I glad I did.

What it is: A self-help book/guide and 4-week home (or gym) training program aimed at improving fundamental movement patterns and strengthening for dance. The program we tested is the 'Self-Study' version of the program as shown here

From the site: Dance Stronger is a book and training program for dancers who want to get stronger, dance better, and prevent injuries.It’s a complete(ly awesome) multimedia guide to developing dance-specific strength.

What it did for me: It. Worked. It freaking worked. I had high hopes that this program would at least help me find out where my body's main imbalances were, so I could figure out how to help myself. It did so much more.

After day 3 of the 'prep week' (which is worth it's virtual weight in gold alone) I figured out my right obliques were not firing correctly, and have not been for quite a while. Alrighty.

After week 1 of the program I noticed I was habitually tensing my right jaw (which was throwing off my balance, and had been limiting the range of motion in my neck AND hips for years).

By week 2 my obliques were 'on' more consistently and I started noticing the difference in ballet class (feeling more grounded, with a clearer sense of where my arms/legs were in space with regards to my center)

By the end of week 3 I felt stronger than ever, and the pain in both my shoulder and hip began to dissapear. Week 4 was just plain fun, and feeling badass. I was actually looking forward to doing the (simple, but not always easy) exercises.

Sounds good, right?

Monika agrees.

It turns out that the Dance Stronger program was just what I had been missing all along. Starting from the BASICS, building up body awareness and getting stronger from there, with excellent form to strenghten and awaken the inhibited areas.

This really was the missing link for me between the many things I had learned up to that point and translating them into actual movement, and ultimately, dance. If I had known about the DS program (or if it had existed earlier) I would have started there and work my way around the other direction, but well.

At least I found it, and I now appreciate it even more.
I told Monika about my experiences during the program test run evaluations - I was/am ecstatic. I promised her I would be doing everything I could to get the word out to as many dancers I know as possible after the 'keep it secret phase' of the trial was over. Which is now, and which is what I am doing right here :)

If you'd like to be notified when the program/book is ready - which will be very soon (and to check out some free bonus chapters) go to and sign up in the box on the right.
DanceStronger. Because it works

In short (hahahaha) - Thank you for reading all of this and for taking the trip down self-care-memory lane with me.

I hope you've found some of the information useful, and if you have a body, if you'd like to make it strong and functional for dance while preventing injuries, please do yourself a HUGE favor and try the Dance Stronger program.

You will be happy you did. Don't wait.

x K.

PS: you can find the most recent update in this blog post series here: How I got pain-free - part 3: A DVD 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

How I got pain-free - part 1

Hello :)

This is a bit of a different post. A post that has been 'in the making' for quite a while, but I could not begin to write it before knowing where (and when!) it would end.

ETA: You can find part 2 of this blog post here: How I got pain-free - part 2
And the most recent update: How I got pain-free - part 3: A DVD

This week I am celebrating my first pain free month in several years, and I'd like to share my story with you. Hopefully the things I have learned (which are quite a few!) might be of interest and/or help for some of you as well.

As you might or might not know, I have been struggling with vertebrae misalignment issues since many many years ago, even before I started dancing.

For a long time I didn't even know that things were 'off', but my movements became more and more restricted (despite dancing more/ desk-working less), I struggled to keep 'dance posture' or even generally 'good' posture in daily life (especially when stressed),  I developed wonky walking habits (noticed by my husband), my balance was.. unpredictable (making inline skating/ballet/standing on one leg a bit of a challenge!) and my upper body and neck were becoming tighter and tighter. To top it off, somewhere down the line I began to develop chronic pain in my right shoulder and hip.

No fun.

So how did I work my way out of this?

My first instinct was going to the Dr.s (as one does) But I soon found out the only alternatives offered were to either 'tough it out' or to get a cortisone 'Spritz' each time my neck muscles seized up.

Hm. Not really the long-term solution I was looking for...

And thus, not quite ready to give up so easily, I started down a multi-year get-pain-free adventure.

Getting outside help was what got me on the right track eventually.

Manual therapy 

Where did I go?
After talking to Yamila, one of my first dance teachers, she advised me to have my alignment checked by an Orthomanual therapist in the Netherlands, as the practitioner that had treated her after a severe car accident had - in her words - saved her back. My practitioners were Dr Dirven and Dr Nix from MC Hoensbroeck in the Netherlands

What did it do for me?
I was finally able to figure out the 'root' cause (a bad fall on my tailbone a few years earlier, made worse by years of gravity and compensatory/ pain-avoiding movement) and the treatments were successful enough to be able to continue my dance training with much less pain and restriction.

Although the treatments did help me enormously, they were not a permanent/complete solution. To keep from regressing, I needed to re-program the 'body around the skeleton' as well.

What else did I try?
As the problems had started with a misaligned tailbone/sacrum, and the tightness had gone up to my neck and head, I decided to try cranio-sacral therapy sessions with Point-of-Balance in Aachen.

The result of CST?
Even though the effects were temporary as well, I am REALLY glad I did the sessions, as they helped the effects of orthomanual therapy last longer, taught me how tense my body actually was while 'in rest' and I learned some great tips and exercises for self-release (tennis ball therapy!) of my über-tight upper body muscles.

Tennis ball. I like the ones that say 'practice'.

Tennis ball rolling exercises for upper back

Learning to help myself

So.. It looked like was on the right track(ha) finally, but what would be the next step?

What helped me get (and stay) pain-free eventually was to learn how to find ways to self-help, reprogram my movement habits and find/maintain a better sense of full-body alignment.

I tried out various methods for this, each with their own advantages, usages and effectivity. In the next post I will do my best to line them all up, including the one(s) that helped me the most. (Hint: *cough* *cough* /Hint)

But first, I must move about a bit :)

Read on to the self-help tips in the next part of this blog post: Adventures in self-care - How I got pain-free - part 2
And the most recent update: How I got pain-free - part 3: A DVD

x K.